Tech Talk #116 – November 9, 2019

Technical debt and infrastructure

Technical debt is a term used in the software industry. All the trade-offs, shortcuts, and patched-up mistakes made by the folks working on software are called technical debt. It’s called a debt because the cost of getting that software done quicker or cheaper creates a need to fix it later and that fix-it-later part is the debt.

The United States, and indeed the world, has massive amounts of technical debt built up in our infrastructure. Whether we’re talking about water systems, roads, bridges, dams, or electrical grids, technical debt is everywhere. For decades, voters, executives, and our state and federal governments have chosen not to prioritize routine infrastructure maintenance and upgrades. The resulting technical debt in our infrastructure has built up to the point that fixing any or all of it will cost trillions of dollars and take decades.

So, these power outages aren’t going to go away any time soon. Until we have the political will and are ready to spend the money to fix the power grid, keeping power lines energized during red flag wind warnings will probably kill people and burn down homes, and turning them off to prevent wildfires will also probably kill people and run people out of business.

Staying online when the power goes out

If your power is on at home, but an outage somewhere else takes down your internet service, it can look like your smartphone is useless, but it’s not. Your phone will still connect to your WiFi even though your WiFi doesn’t have internet access. To fix this: go into Settings and turn off WiFi, that’ll force your phone back to a cell tower connection, and you should be able to get back online.

If your power is out, then your WiFi is out, and your phone won’t be able to connect to it, so you should be okay.

Once your phone is up and connected to the internet through your provider, did you know you can use your phone as a hotspot to get up to five laptops and tablets connected to the internet through your phone? It will eat into your data usage for the month, but at least you’ll be able to use your email and pay bills, etc.

For Android users, go to Settings > Wireless & Networks, and tap on the Mobile Hotspot toggle switch. Once the toggle switch is on, tap on Mobile Hotspot again to get the default name of your hotspot and the password.

Apple users, go to Settings > Personal Hotspot and click the toggle for Allow Others To Join. The password for your hotspot shows on the screen. Your hotspot name is usually the same as your phone’s name.

Keeping your phone charged during a power outage can be a challenge.

In the “planning ahead” category, you can pick up very capable solar chargers with multiple USB ports made just for charging phones and tablets. The bigger the battery in the charger, the more times you can charge your devices. Good solar chargers run $20-$40 online or in the store. Using a solar charger is pretty easy: leave it in the sun to charge the battery during the day, and use it to charge your devices at night. Then do it again the next day.

If you’re not in the “planning ahead” category, plug your phone into your car charger and charge your phone while driving around in your car. Maybe while you’re out shopping for a solar charger?

Not me, but…

I guess we had a power outage overnight. This morning I tried my PC, her laptop, and the TV and nothing. It’s like they all wanted something from me. Oh, and both my iPhone and iPad had dead batteries. And to top it all off, it was raining outside, so I couldn’t even play golf.

So, I went into the kitchen to make coffee. I stood and stared at the espresso machine for a while before I remembered that this thing needs power, too. In the end, I talked with my wife for a few hours.

She seems like a nice person.

Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at

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